The History of Coca-Cola’s Iconic Polar Bear Mascots, Explained


Coca-Cola has been using polar bears for decades to advertise and market one of its the most popular soft drink brands in the world. Whether images of the Arctic animal appear on packaging or in television commercials, polar bears are strongly associated with the Coca-Cola brand. Although the Coca-Cola bear was first seen in 1922, it is thanks to a reimagined campaign by a talented artist that debuted in 1993 that the bear as we know it today came into being.

Those Coca-Cola polar bears have popped up in dozens of commercials to sell (and drink) soda, and they’re the only major mascot in the soda company’s long and illustrious history (unless you count Santa Claus, who’s been appearing in Coca-Cola ads since the ’30s). From their roots in European advertising to animated characters in Super Bowl ads to the inspiration for tons of merchandise, here’s a look back at the development, evolution, and importance of the Coca-Cola polar bear mascot.

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Polar bears first appeared in Coca-Cola advertisements in the 1920s

French Coca-Cola advertisement from the 1920sFrench Coca-Cola advertisement from the 1920s

French Coca-Cola Ad from the 1920s – WorldofCocaCola / X, formerly known as Twitter

Is made from one of the world’s best kept recipesCoca-Cola was first sold in France in 1919, and three years later local distributors created a print ad for the beverage, imploring consumers to buvez (or, in English, “drink”) Coca-Cola. The art powerfully conveyed how refreshing Coca-Cola could be by placing it in the hands of a polar bear. According to Cardiff University Blog about Arctic Relations, this coincides with a time when “polar bear imagery flourished in visual art, popular culture, and entertainment” in Europe. In Germany, there was a polar bear “craze” where people often posed for photographs in public in polar bear costumes.

Over the next seven decades, Coca-Cola print marketing campaigns occasionally used images of polar bears. But the company never fully embraced the cold-dwelling animal as an advertising mascot until 1993, when it starred in a television commercial. To come up with a visually striking campaign for Creative Artists Agency, artist Ken Stewart thought about drinking Coca-Cola while watching movies, and then he caught a glimpse of his Labrador retriever, who he thought looked like a polar bear in puppyhood. Stewart combined the two ideas and decided that a film featuring Coca-Cola-drinking polar bears in the Arctic wilderness would be the Northern Lights. “Northern Lights” became the name of that Coca-Cola spot, the first of more than two dozen animated commercials starring the animals.

The polar bear mascot still appears in many places

coke polar bear mascot costumecoke polar bear mascot costume

Coca-Cola Polar Bear Mascot Costume – rblfmr/Shutterstock

The bears still appear occasionally in Coca-Cola commercials, while enjoying status as a beloved corporate mascot. Visitors to Atlanta’s World of Coca-Colaone of the the tastiest food museums in the worldcan have their picture taken with a costumed employee. The bear also makes regular public appearances across the country. Each winter holiday season, artistic depictions of the growing Coca-Cola polar bear family appear on Coca-Cola product packaging and cans, and merchandise is sold on the company’s website. In 2013, the second generation of the characters starred in a seven-minute short film called “The Polar Bears,” directed by Academy Award winner Ridley Scott.

In 2008, polar bears were declared eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Coupled with increased public awareness of melting sea ice, polar bears have become strongly associated with climate change. That could have jeopardized Coca-Cola’s use of the animal as a cute mascot. “The further away the character strays from a real character in the world, the less a company has to worry about what’s going on in the real world,” Barbara Phillips, a marketing professor at the University of Saskatchewan, told the New Yorker. To help save the polar bears, Coca-Cola pledged a $2 million donation to the World Wildlife Fund in 2011 and raised an additional $3 million from consumers. These steps were announced in a 2013 Coca-Cola ad featuring real polar bears.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal.

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